With the municipal elections over and the presidential election approaching, the League of Young Voters is working harder than ever to get young people to the polls. In the last federal election, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, less than half of New Mexicans ages 18 to 29 voted.
The percentage who turn out for municipal and state elections is even lower. In 2002, before the League started in New Mexico, the midterm elections attracted only 18 percent of eligible young voters. Since the organization began campaigning, young voter turnout has increased significantly and League events, from the Breakin' Hearts Hip Hop Jam to the Politics and Pancakes get-together, have attracted crowds.
The newest addition to the League's team is a yellow school bus. Purchased last month, the bus will transport League volunteers and staff members as they cruise the city, educating young people ages 17 to 34 on their voting rights and registering voters.
Originally called the League of Pissed-Off Voters, the group is part of a national network of grassroots organizations working toward greater involvement in the political process. Team members have been operating without wheels in New Mexico for four years, organizing the Get Out the Vote and Know Your Rights campaigns, lobbying at the State Legislature, creating voter guides and generally raising hell.
Keegan King, the co-director of the League, took some time out of the election season mayhem to talk with the Alibi about the organization's role in youth politics.
Why should young people vote and participate in politics?
It's important to get involved in your community in any way, and that's part of what we want to do; foster a culture of volunteerism—not just for voting—so that people make it a lifestyle. It's really important to be involved in the voting process as young people because we're one of the most under-represented demographics. A lot of times, if people would actually come out and vote it would make a huge difference, and it's going to make a big difference next year.
Is it a myth that young people aren't as interested in politics as older people?
I would say that it is. Many young people have very advanced opinions about politics, about the issues, but until we have a system that really listens to everybody, where we have people all publicly financed and we actually do have clean elections, a lot of people aren't going to want to participate. That's kind of where we find people. They have a lot of opinions, but they feel like it might not make a difference.
Many young people feel they're excluded from politics and not really encouraged to participate in the political system. Why do you think that is?
Because there's a lack of young people that are actually running. A lot of times, young people don't have the means of older folks, you know, the traditional politicians. That's another thing we've been working on, kind of evening things out by working on policies like clean elections, public financing, campaign finance reform, so if a young person decided to run, it could be about the issues, and they wouldn't have to spend all of their money.
Many political organizations that are geared toward young people confine themselves to college campuses. How is the League of Young Voters different?
We're definitely not just in the college area. We work off of voter lists so we can go into any [area]. We're a demographic that's throughout the city no matter where you go. We organize everywhere: young parents, young adults, anywhere in that 17 to 34 year old bracket. And we also talk to, depending on the issue, older people. If it's about college tuition or something like that and they have a stake in it, like you don't want to pay for your kid's tuition, then we're going to talk to the parents, too.
Does the League concentrate more on statewide and national elections, or is equal attention given to municipal elections?
We generally work on municipal and State Legislature [elections], so we're working locally, and we're hoping that the work we do helps inform federal policy.
Is the League nonpartisan?
We run the gamut. We can do, you know, very nonpartisan issue stuff. We can also take a stand on candidates and issues.
What kind of criteria does the League look for in deciding whether or not to endorse a candidate?
It depends on the office but mainly how much they’re going to prioritize programs to help youth, whether that’s their jobs or their education or just opportunities to keep young people engaged. We want to see it backed up with money and we want a definite pledge.
How does the League hold government officials accountable after they’re elected?
We are a grassroots organization with members, so we have a lot of people power. That’s how we keep people accountable. We have action. We have our voter guide. We have our endorsements. There are numerous ways.
On the League Website, I noticed building trust within the youth community is a goal.
All the organizers with the League here are local, and we've been in the shoes of our peers. ... It's like, if you're not from here and you're not working on issues [relevant] to young people here, then you're really just making things worse. That's really important to us, that we build that trust and we're working on issues young people care about.